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Cyclic avian mass mortality in the northeastern United States is associated with a novel orthomyxovirus

November 12, 2014

Since 1998, cyclic mortality events in common eiders (Somateria mollissima), numbering in the hundreds to thousands of dead birds, have been documented along the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA. Although longitudinal disease investigations have uncovered potential contributing factors responsible for these outbreaks, detecting a primary etiological agent has proven enigmatic. Here we identify a novel orthomyxovirus, tentatively named Wellfleet Bay virus (WFBV), as a potential causative agent of these outbreaks. Genomic analysis of WFBV revealed that it is most closely related to members of the Quaranjavirus genus within the family Orthomyxoviridae. Similar to other members of the genus, WFBV contains an alphabaculovirus gp64-like glycoprotein, which was demonstrated to have fusion activity, and also tentatively suggests that ticks (and/or insects) may vector the virus in nature. However, in addition to the six RNA segments encoding the prototypical structural proteins identified in other quaranjaviruses, a previously unknown RNA segment (segment 7) encoding a novel protein designated as VP7 was discovered in WFBV. Although WFBV shows low to moderate levels of sequence similarity to Quaranfil virus and Johnston Atoll virus, the original members of the Quaranjavirus genus, additional antigenic and genetic analyses demonstrated that it is closely related to the recently identified Cygnet River virus (CyRV) from South Australia, suggesting that WFBV and CyRV may be geographic variants of the same virus. Although the identification of WFBV in part may resolve the enigma of these mass mortality events, the details of the ecology and epidemiology of the virus remain to be determined.


Importance The emergence or reemergence of viral pathogens resulting in large-scale outbreaks of disease in humans and/or animals is one of the most important challenges facing biomedicine. For example, understanding how orthomyxoviruses such as novel influenza A virus reassortants and/or mutants emerge to cause epidemic or pandemic disease is at the forefront of current global health concerns. Here we describe the emergence of a novel orthomyxovirus, Wellfleet Bay virus (WFBV), which has been associated with cyclic large-scale bird die-offs in the northeastern United States. This initial characterization study provides a foundation for further research into the evolution, epidemiology, and ecology of newly emerging orthomyxoviruses, such as WFBV, and their potential impacts on animal and/or human health.

Publication Year 2015
Title Cyclic avian mass mortality in the northeastern United States is associated with a novel orthomyxovirus
DOI 10.1128/JVI.02019-14
Authors Andrew B. Allison, Jennifer R. Ballard, Robert B. Tesh, Justin D. Brown, Mark G. Ruder, M. Kevin Keel, Brandon A. Munk, Randall M. Mickley, Samantha E. J. Gibbs, Julie C. Ellis, Amelia P.A. Travassos da Rosac, Hon S. Ip, Valerie I. Shearn-Bochsler, Matthew B. Rogers, Elodie Gheldin, Edward C. Holmes, Colin R. Parrish, Chris P. Dwyer
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Virology
Index ID 70134830
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center